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Deaf teenager excels in community ballet programme in Nairobi informal settlement

A young dancer performs in a Christmas ballet event in Kibera   -  
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Brian Inganga/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved


A deaf teenager from a Nairobi slum has defied expectation by excelling in a community ballet programme, despite not being able to hear the music.

Seventeen-year-old Gorrety Akinyi is the only deaf student in the class and has been able to master the routines by carefully copying her teacher and classmates.

Founded by Michael Wamaya, Project Elimu offers after school arts education and a safe space for children in Kibera, the largest informal settlement in the Kenyan capital.

Using sign language, Akinyi explains that she joined the classes with other local children in 2020 when all the schools were closed down.

“I was the only deaf girl but Mike was willing to help me and I remember them wondering how I would do it because I am deaf and it is about dancing. So I had to copy what the hearing are doing, as I can't hear and speak as well," she says.

In a programme where sound is so important, her decision was met with disbelief among her hearing peers.

But growing up deaf, she has learnt to navigate life's challenges with determination and explains how dancing brings her great joy.

"I think I am inspired. I'm in high school and once I am done, I would wish to continue with ballet,” she says.

Through their shared love of dance, Akinyi has forged friendships with her fellow ballet students. She's even taught them some sign language.

“I have been teaching them how to use sign language and so we can even have a discussion and show each other how to dance," she says.

Watching her dance, Akinyi’s mother, Florence Awino, says she is proud of her daughter.

"Ever since she joined ballet, I have seen a great improvement. Even in terms of the way she dances, you would assume she can hear but she doesn't hear. It's by God's grace that she has come this far, " she says.

Ballet teacher, Erick Mwangi, says everyone is welcome in the classes.

"That is why you can't notice that a certain child is special in a certain way, especially when they are dancing, because they have learnt to be together, to dance as a team," he says.

Mwangi says the children have learnt to respect and love each other, and to share whatever they have.

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